Saturday, August 25, 2012
FIDDLIN KILBY SPENCER: SON OF WHITETOP MOUNTAIN BAND
Kilby Spencer's band The Crooked Road Ramblers played at the Jubilee on Main St in Sparta Friday night. They have the Friday night slot at the Jubilee every week now for as long as they want it. They kept the crowd dancing. They have a good drive for a dance band. Old-time bands are dance bands. Kilby's mother and dad are Emily and Thornton Spencer of Whitetop Mountain Band, a Grayson County Virginia band with drive that lets you know you're in the mountains. Kilby's sister, Martha, is staying with Whitetop Mountain Band. She plays every instrument, dances and sings. She is looking like the next WMB fiddler. She's been playing fiddle with the band, second to Thornton, for several years, possibly ten years, give or take a few. Kilby has played fiddle with Whitetop Mountain Band periodically since he's been able to carry out a fiddle tune, as Martha has too.
I've seen among older people I've known in the past that one of the aspects of the musical tradition in the mountains is for people who love the music, go to fiddlers conventions and dances, pay attention to the musicians, is to note a young fiddler or banjo or guitar picker who appears to have promise if he keeps on with it, if he chooses to go the way of music. It's not a matter of getting hopes up for one, because anything can happen. In the mid teens is a hurdle where a lot of them put the music aside and don't take it up again. Some take it up again and some don't let the music fall away. Kilby, like Martha, started when he was little. Mother and dad played, uncle Albert played, they played together all the time and probably every weekend. The kids grew up with old-time music. Records and tapes of different fiddlers from the past and regions of the mountains, old-time bands, banjos, that Kilby's mother and dad listened to. Kilby sent me a collection of 22 songs Thornton was either given by Fiddlin Art Wooten or he bought from Art. It was a home-made 8-track recording of Art Wooten playing fiddle, Jr Maxwell banjo and Wayne Henderson guitar.
Kilby is a folklorist from the inside. Something like AP Carter was, in his own time and place. AP gathered songs from the mountains a few hundred miles to the north and to the south of his home in Virginia, just across the NC line northwest of Bristol. Kilby has bought digital recording devises that pick up sound beautifully. He records people who have never recorded, like fiddler Raymond Gentry of Trap Hill, NC. Kilby has passed to me several of his recordings that he collects non-commercially, archiving, collecting samples of mountain music by people never recorded, as well as home-made tapes in boxes in the attic. Some of them actually survive. Kilby has found videos from home-movie cameras and put them on YouTube. His channel is whitetopmusic all one word. He has video of Albert Hash fiddling, Enoch Rutherford picking banjo with Thornton Spencer when Thornton was much younger, Doc Roberts, Thornton and Emily, Huston Caudill. You can hear some mighty fine examples of mountain music at Kilby's channel.
Kilby has been the young fiddler I've been watching grow. That's what he does. He grows by learning new songs, new ways to play old songs, a new instrument to learn and master, and another, until he can play a whole old-time band. His fiddle is Kilby's lifetime emphasis. The fiddle is his art form he has next to no choice about, like vanGogh driven to paint every day in nasty poverty because his art form needed full attention. Kilby is not playing the poverty role. He is a computer tech whiz who kept the computers of the school systems, county offices, the one you call when you're teaching computer class at the high school and something went cuckoo, like a virus or any of multiple million possibilities. He was moved to Ashe County where he takes care of the their computers last I knew. He's not told me he left Ashe, so I figure he's still there. The only news I get on Kilby is from Kilby himself. I like it like that.
Kilby Spencer is so dedicated to his growth as a fiddler I love to hear his new subtleties over time. He knows an awful lot of songs and plays all of them well. Very well. Kilby is a true heir in the line of Whitetop fiddlers, his uncle Albert Hash and his dad Thornton Spencer. Now it's Kilby and Martha, both of them Whitetop fiddlers of the next generation, the ones to keep the sound and the drive going into the next next generation. It's been an enjoyment for me watching Kilby grow from having no band at all to his Haw Orchard Band he made a couple of homemade cd's from. He gave me copies of his different cds he made for play on the radio show I was doing at WCOK in Sparta Saturday mornings. It wasn't for any commercial benefit. It was that I wanted to play every field recording I could find. The radio show's focus was the music of this county, then the first circle around that was surrounding counties, the next circle the Central Blue Ridge, the next circle the Southern Mountains. Kilby turned up with some music by musicians from close to home and let me play an awful lot of them to the listeners in the county. Bertie Dickens, Cleve Andrews, Jr Maxwell, Raymond Gentry, Howard Joines, Wood Blevins and quite a lot more.
I took the camera to the show tonight and made several still shots of Kilby on fiddle and the other musicians in the band, some of the whole band with dancers in foreground. Made several videos, too, of half dozen or so tunes. I was able to sit the camera on a counter next to Ernest's coffee maker in the corner at the back, out of everybody's way. Using the zoom and sitting the camera still I could get sharp focus and closeups on the musicians from the waist up with instrument. When getting a portrait of a musician, I like to get both hands and the face in the picture. Not always---a rule of thumb. My computer is so full that I have to unload much of it before I can put more in (like my house, like my mind). It's a time-consuming job that I don't know what it's going to take to motivate me to dive in and get-er-done. It won't be long. Not today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the next day. I'll do it in my own time. I'll hurry slowly. Slow is good. I'm not working in a factory. Nor was meant to be.
They have a cd available from cdbaby.com. It is Lost Train Blues by the Crooked Road Ramblers. You can see it at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/tcrramblers. Excellent old-time album. This link will take you directly there. The band has a website that is "undergoing routine maintenance" at this moment, but is subject to change any day or week. For when it's ready to go again, http://www.myspace.com/thecrookedroadramblers.